When dreams die; tales of cutdown days

by Gary Shelton on August 30, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

If you could nail him down, Rich McKay was always an interesting interview.

Especially when the police lights were flashing into his face.

It was late August of 1997, and I was in McKay's office for one of those state-of-the-union kind of stories we jammed into the football special sections of the day. The Bucs had just come off a 6-10 season that felt a lot better than that. It was Tony Dungy's first year in town, and you could see possibilities starting to form.

Which is when all the action began.

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No, the cops weren't at the old One Buc training facility because McKay had done anything wrong, either. In a story that had nothing to do with why I was in his office, a player named LaCurtis Jones had been cut, and he wasn't happy about it. Someone had seen Jones in a pawn shop, trying to buy a gun so he could go after his position coach, a guy by the name of Lovie Smith.

Jones had blocked a punt the week before, and he evidently thought he had the team made. But that 1997 Bucs team included Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks, Rufus Porter, Shelton Quarles and Al Singleton. There wasn't a lot of room.

And so Jones was ticked. The Bucs offered him a ticket anywhere. He decided he wanted to see his sister in Houston.

According to the coaches, it wasn't far enough.

* * *

Understand the pressure that is involved in the Final Cutdown Day. Players have dreamed of pro football all of their lives. They have counted on it since they were kids. Their families are dependent upon it.

And then you're told to bring your playbook, and it all goes away.

Every year, almost as many people fail to stick with an NFL team as do. And the players always say they're caught up in the numbers, and someone may need a player of his skillset, and blah, blah, blah.

And you don't know anyone with ammunition, do you?

* * *

Since I was a young reporter, I always referred to the Final Cutdown Day as Jeff Wickersham Day.

At the time, I was covering the Miami Dolphins, and poor Wickersham didn't have much of a chance to make the team. The Dolphins that year had Dan Marino. And Don Strock. And do-everything Jim Jensen, the immortal Crash. Wickersham wasn't going to make the team if he had naked pictures of Joe Robbie.

So Wickersham, predictably, was cut. I was walking back from the dining hall, and here came Wickersham, driving directly towards me. I hadn't heard the cuts yet, so I lifted my hand in greeting.

And Wickersham didn't slow down. He floored it, and it was all I could do to get my large posterior out of the way. As the years went by, and other writers told the story, his vehicle got closer and closer to me.

* * *

It wasn't on the final cutdown day, but the Bucs once waited to sign the immortal Gaines Adams before they cut Simeon Rice. After they made him drive to Orlando.

Okay, okay. Rice couldn't play anymore.

On the other hand, neither could Adams.

* * *

There are a lot of cutdown stories. Former Giants' nosetackle Jim Burt once told his coaches he was sleeping under his bed at training camp. That way, the Turk couldn't find him. A former receiver once dumped a milkshake on the head of Colts' coach Frank Kush.

* * *

This story bears repeating. The Bucs had just made their all-time worst draft pick by taking Booker Reese in 1982.

That first preseason, Booker had a headache. So he went back into the trainer's room and began looking for medicine. Finally, he grabbed something and turned to take it.

“Wait a minute, Booker,” one of his teammates said (Scot Brantley swears it was Mark Cotney, but Cotney denies it. “Those are cold tablets. You havw to put them in the refrigerator so they can get cold before you take them.”

And Reese turned, opened the refrigerator door, and stuck the pills inside for later.

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